Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Turn the Hourglass

Forster Avenue, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

It’s the 1960s and we live in a house styled after an Elizabethan cottage, built in 1917. Ivy creeps up the stone chimney and twirls around an iron lantern at the front door. 

The house sat on a corner lot. The street it faced, which inclined slightly toward the next block, felt dim and mysterious yet wide and bright. A straight, quiet street with huge elms arching overhead and a slate sidewalk of many hues, crippled in places where the tree roots had pushed through.

The sidewalk lilted up the sunny side of the street and darkly down the other, shaded in part by a granite precipice on which two homes were perched. It extended expectantly in front of a double lot.

It felt like an important street. To begin with, it was perfectly composed. It had the habit of seeming to rise up before you, with the houses and landscape flowing in all directions. Sometimes an imaginary mist floated around.

The massing of slate, stone, and greenery beneath tall trees was such a strong symphony that you invariably thought you heard a clap of thunder or the first chord in the history of the world when you came upon it.

I’m not making this up. This is how it was.  

We kids thought the street belonged to us, but it went back 3/4 of a century. Even during the late 1950s, gas sconces remained in a few of the homes.

So it was that Violet Romer – gorgeous flapper & actress, acclaimed interpretive dancer –

& her brother Romer Shawhan – an architect who flew at St. Mihiel with the Lafayette Escadrille and married the heiress to Pacific Coast Borax, for whose father Zabriskie Point was named –

would interrupt our ball game when their 1938 “Woodie” station wagon rounded the corner and rolled halfway up the block, turning into the driveway of their white frame house.

Did we step back impatiently when they drove by, eager to resume our play? Or were we blown to the curb in space and time?

Of course none of us children had any idea about the vivid places that Violet and Romer had occupied.

I’m always chasing that street into the past.

Drawing by Claudia Keenan

See also April 13 + 27, 2016 posts.

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